Woman allegedly raped by her Uber driver sues rideshare giant for negligence, battery

A sign displayed at Uber's headquarters in San Francisco.
An Orange County woman claims she was raped by her driver on the night of April 16, 2023. Attorneys for the rideshare giant are attempting to aggregate her case into a statewide master complaint comprising 1,533 similar cases.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

On the night of April 16, 2023, a woman who’d had a few drinks earlier in the evening called for an Uber driver to take her from Corona del Mar back to her campus housing in Irvine.

It seemed like the safe thing to do, far better than getting behind the wheel and risking getting pulled over by police, or worse. In no time at all, the woman received a notification from her Uber app, informing her driver, Daniel Mercado, was en route to pick her up.

During the ride home, she fell asleep in the backseat but was later awakened by Mercado, who had pulled the vehicle over onto a side street near the university, gotten into the backseat and begun raping her, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 28 with Orange County Superior Court.


“[The] plaintiff could not move, nor escape,” attorneys for the woman alleged. “This depraved attack by the Uber driver humiliated, violated and robbed the plaintiff of her dignity and personal safety.”

Although the Irvine student had opted in to a safety feature — whereby Uber contacts riders if a ride has stopped for more than 5 minutes without being “completed” to see if they are OK — Uber’s efforts to contact to the rider went unreturned, as the woman was allegedly being assaulted at the time.

Yet, the company never followed up on the non-response by contacting 911 or any other emergency services, the complaint maintains. The victim filed a police report herself within six hours to the Irvine Police Department.

Attorney Andrew T. Ryan, founder of the Manhattan Beach-based Ryan Law Group, said the Orange County case is one of several his firm has taken up against ridesharing companies in recent years.

“My client, she’d had some drinks earlier that day. She was just trying to do the right thing by taking an Uber home, and this happens to her,” Ryan said Thursday. “It’s crazy.”

The complaint maintains Mercado had been previously convicted of child abuse/neglect, was once arrested for domestic violence and had other charges and convictions made against him before being hired by Uber.

According to Ryan, who hired a private investigator to locate the driver, Mercado is believed to have fled to Mexico. Ryan’s firm accuses San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, Inc. of being negligent in its hiring practices and for failing to perform adequate background checks on its drivers.

Their allegations also include negligent undertaking, for Uber’s failure to follow up with police, and sexual battery, as the driver was acting within the scope of employment when the assault took place.

“They said this driver was safe and they should have known, through the process of due care, this was a criminal and should not have been driving for Uber,” Ryan said.

Uber’s attorneys initially had until Tuesday to file a response to the Orange County claims but, in a separate document filed Wednesday, requested the complaint be aggregated into a statewide master complaint against the company being heard in the San Francisco County Superior Court at the behest of the Judicial Council of California.

Opened in 2021, the wider effort now comprises 1,533 coordinated civil cases against Uber Technologies, Inc., along with chief executives past and present, detailing how “sexual predators driving for Uber have continued to sexually assault, harass, falsely imprison, kidnap, physically assault and/or rape Uber’s passengers.”

The complaint alleges the company’s attempts to market itself as a “safer, better alternative to other forms of transportation,” particularly for intoxicated women and late-night passengers, is part of a disingenuous campaign designed to grow its customer base and profits.

Attorneys further describe a pattern of insufficient background checks, safety apps that fail to materially protect riders and fostering policies of not working with law enforcement once criminal reports have been made.

“Uber, at the direction of Uber’s officers, directors and/or managing agents, knowingly protects the sexual predators that drive for them,” the JCC complaint reads. “The Uber ride-hailing platform is a haven for sexual predators preying on vulnerable women.”

In a safety report encompassing data collected in 2019 and 2020, Uber reported the number of reported sexual assaults decreased 38% from figures gathered in 2017 and 2018, from 5,981 incidents to 3,824.

Authors cited the pandemic and safety efforts as possible reasons for the decline and said in 43% of the assaults reported, riders were the accused party. They estimated non-consensual penetration occurs in approximately 1 in 5,000,000 of trips recorded in the U.S., or roughly .00002%.

“Uber does not tolerate sexual assault or sexual misconduct,” the report states. “We take all allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by our users extremely seriously and work to take appropriate action on every report quickly and fairly.”

Attorneys for Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Orange County case, but both parties have agreed to wait for a determination on the coordination petition before proceeding further.

Ryan said his client’s case is unique and should stand on its own.

“The theory [there] is about Uber’s culture of reckless growth, misogyny and lawlessness among founders and top officers at the corporation,” he said. “We have more specific facts concerning one specific driver.”